Sermon: Work of Salvation

We have been exploring, in these last few weeks, the ways in which the Christian faith speaks into every square inch of our lives. In particular, we have been asking how God’s Word speaks to our lives at work. We saw in Genesis 1-3 that all of work is good, all of work is fallen, and all of work is being redeemed. Each of us works in an arena where God is working out his salvation. There is biblical, creation-shaped mission for us no matter what job or school we participate in.

Last week, Pastor Olga explored Exodus 1 and 31 with us. We saw the difference between the rule of Pharaoh and the rule of God. Pharaoh and all those who represent him take and take and take, use and use, trying to make us less than who we truly are. By contrast, God gives and gives, making us more, equipping us for the good work in front of us, calling us to rest and joy in that work. And we were invited to work in God’s kingdom, no matter who our boss is.

This morning, we want to pause and ask the question: How does our work relate to our salvation. If we work is so good and being redeemed, an arena of redemption, what relationship does it have to the restoration of relationship with God and the promise of eternal life.

In order to answer this question, we won’t just think really hard or search back through our experience for what we have seen and heard, but we will go and listen to what God has to say in his Word to us. And through this, I believe that God will open us to even greater joy and purpose in our work. If you would, turn with me to Ephesians, chapter 2, beginning in verse 1. Ephesians 2, beginning in verse 1. Ephesians is in the New Testament – 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians. If you are in Philippians or Colossians you have gone too far. Ephesians 2, beginning in verse 1. But before we hear God’s word this morning, please take a moment to pray with me.

Father, may your Word be our rule, your Holy Spirit our teacher, and the glory of jesus Christ our single concern. Amen.

These are the very words of God:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us, at one time, also lived among them, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God who is rich in mercy made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

This is the word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

What does our work, our works, have to do with our salvation? Short answer: nothing.

Look with me at verses 8-9: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works so that no one can boast.

not by works, so that no one can boast.

The short answer is that our work, the activity of our hands and our minds, has nothing to do with our salvation.

Why?

Paul opens this chapter by describing the condition of the church in Ephesus, indeed all of us, prior to knowing Christ. And he uses the language of death. Verse 1: As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins in which you used to live.

You were dead. Paul describes the condition of all people prior to the saving work of God as spiritually dead. Not just sick and hobbling around, not just ignorant and in need to new information, not simply misguided and in need of moral guidance, but dead.

And the metaphor is important. The sick can take the work to go and get medicine, the ignorant can make the effort to learn, and the misguided can work to change the path their feet walk, but the dead.

The dead can do nothing to bring themselves to life.

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins in which you used to live

Prior to knowing Christ, all of us are completely helpless to bring ourselves to life, to set ourselves right with God, and to live in fellowship and obedience to him. We cannot do it. Our spiritual condition is one of death and the dead can do nothing to bring themselves to life.

No amount of hard work, good work, no amount of prayers, pious thoughts, or acts of service can get us there.

In fact, I misspoke a little earlier when I said that our works had nothing to do with salvation. If we look at our works alone, they would lead us even farther from God. Look at what Paul says in verses 1-3:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us, at one time, also lived among them, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.

We were spiritually dead, but even more than that, he talks about following the ways of this world, which are the ways of evil, contrary to God. He speaks of gratifying our sinful nature – a sort of selfishness, pleasure-seeking, almost animal-like state where whatever feels good right now is the right thing to do.

So not only are we helpless to save ourselves, but if we looked at our works themselves prior to knowing Christ, they would only make things worse.

But…Paul says. But…one of those powerful gospel words:

But because of his great love for us, God who is rich in mercy made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.

Paul speaks to us of death, and then of resurrection. God brings the dead to life. A cosmic shift is captured in that little word ‘but’ – the before & after of God’s work of regeneration, of raising the spiritually dead. What was before, what we were before in our sin and helplessness, we are no longer – it is by grace you have been saved.

And all of it is by grace.

Grace. Grace is one of those thick words that should lie heavy on our tongues. Grace. Grace is unearned love and acceptance, Grace is forgiveness, Grace is God raising the dead and declaring us right with God not on the strength of our work or our goodness or our moral effort, but because of the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Grace is God declaring that we have life and fellowship with Christ, even when on our own, our very works would disqualify us.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works so that no one can boast.

Salvation is not by the work of our hands, it is by grace. There is no amount of good you can do that will get you in and no amount of bad that can keep you out.

In terms of our work life, you are not saved by being a good employee, a successful farmer, or even a hard work, nor are you disqualified by being lazy, bad tempered, or even struggling in your business.

Salvation is by grace through faith. Salvation is found only in Christ and him crucified. Salvation is God raising us with Christ that we might cling to Jesus in faith.

It is only grace – the grace found in Jesus Christ on the cross – it is through his righteousness, his obedience that we are forgiven and declared innocent when we are in fact guilty.

Salvation is 100% God’s work. In fact, Paul tells us that even the faith by which we cling to Christ is itself a gift of God.

So what does out work have to do with our salvation? Nothing. It is not our work, but God’s work of grace that brings about the salvation of sinners. It is God’s work, not ours, that enables us to trust in Jesus and be assured of eternal life.

This is the gospel. This is what Christians for centuries have clung to in famine, in persecution, in the face of rejection and hopelessness. This is the good news.

Paul is not done. Verse 10:

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

From what we see in verses 1-9, we know that we are not saved by works, but in verse 10, we learn that we are saved for good works.

Let me say that again: we are not saved by good works, but we are saved for good works.

The grace that sets us free, that raises us to life, this good news of the reconciliation won on the cross by Jesus Christ is news that requires a response

The theologian Karl Barth once put it this way: “It is not god everything and man nothing, but God does everything in order that man might be something.”

God does everything, so that we might be able to be and do something – for we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

The good news of the gospel requires a response.

There is a great different between information and news. Information can be filed away in our brains, brought out at parties, and only affect us as much as we would like. But news, news changes things and we have to respond.

There is a famous picture that was taken just after Japan surrendered in WWII. Lee can we see that on the screen. Thanks. The news that the war was over changed everything and this sailor had to respond.

Kissing_the_War_GoodbyeThere was no way to be neutral about what had been heard. Even those who were not involved in the surrender of V-J day were effected by it. Even if we did nothing, it is news that impacts us. The story of this picture is that supposedly he didn’t even know her, but was so overcome with the news of what had happened that the kiss was spontaneous. Thanks, Lee.

The Gospel is News – Good news.

As Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen put it, “Some messages can be received merely for information. Others – “There’s a fire in the building!” – require an immediate response. We cannot remain impassive once we have heard the news that at last God’s universal kingdom is coming. This message demands a response. Jesus calls those who hear him to “repent and believe,” and then he says simply, “Follow me””

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

While we are not saved by works, we are saved for good works. The gospel that God raises sinners dead in transgressions to life and reconciles them to himself is not the kind of news that can be responded to neutrally. It is news that calls for our whole life, our whole being, committed in service and thankfulness to God.

Our faithfulness, our obedience to Jesus, our exhibiting of the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control) are part of this new life we have been given in and with Jesus. No longer are we dead, no longer are we slaves to selfishness, no longer are we disciples of this world, no longer do we follow the pharaohs of this world or participate in the devil’s schemes, we walk with God, which is a path with good works of love and service already laid out for us. Because we are in Christ, verse 10: For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works. Because are in Christ, we live like Christ.

The very work we do, the life of faithfulness and discipleship, growing in relationship and obedience to Jesus is a response to salvation not a condition for it.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works so that no one can boast.

No amount of goodness can get us in and no amount of sin can keep us out, it is by the grace of God in Christ, through faith in Jesus that we are saved. But Paul goes on:

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Our work – in our schools, at the workplace, in service to others – is part of our response to this good news we have been a part of.

We see this in Madison and Nick this morning. In a few moments, we will have the blessed opportunity to witness God’s promises and their promises. Almost 20 years ago, God’s promises were spoken over Madison – that she was his child, that she was loved by God. And in that baptism was both the good news and promise of God as well as the call to one day respond by forsaking sin and evil and to walk in the light of Christ. Today, we get to see the fruit of God’s work in Madison’s life to proclaim the gospel and commit to a life of walking with Jesus.

And for Nick, we get to witness both God’s promises to him and his response in the same day. For Nick, too, we hear God promise to love him, to claim him as his own. And we will hear Nick say, “I believe, I trust, I want to follow Jesus.”

What we have been hearing in the Bible this morning is made visible in the waters of baptism. The grace of God in Jesus Christ, washing us from all our sins, and the response of a whole life in faithfulness and obedience to God.

For all of us who have been baptized, over whom the promises of God have been spoken, may we respond by trusting Christ alone, his grace alone for our salvation, and then live a life of good works in response to God.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Amen. Please pray with me.

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